Online Political Activism

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Year 2, Alex Velberg, reasearching. Photo credit: Emma Bally.

Eli Frankel ‘18

Donald Trump has been mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, and almost all other social media sites since he announced his candidacy for president in the summer of 2015. This is not due to Trump’s popularity among Americans; the same social media sites are riddled with posts disavowing and condemning Trump’s bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies. It would seem that this kind of widespread interest in American politics would cause civically engaged Americans to flock to polling booths and volunteer centers. That is not the case. Instead, American voters have spent their time critiquing Mr. Trump on social media sites, not engaging themselves in the American political system.

This widespread political involvement often does not extend beyond the realm of social media into the real world. While students and young adults complain on Facebook about Donald Trump’s latest tirade of bigoted remarks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign offices remain devoid of student activists. While students complain about a sharp decline in voter turnout, the same students refuse opportunities to go outside and register voters. And despite the online antipathy among young people toward Donald Trump, he was, until a few weeks ago, almost tied with his opponent in the polls.

We are therefore living in an era of severe political inactivity. As young people continue to spew their voices into the void that is social media, this political apathy only becomes more and more dangerous to our republican society. That is the heart of the problem: young people see social media as an appropriate substitute for tangible political .

I will concede that social media can be very useful for expressing political beliefs, but this expression comes at a cost. The problem with online forums is that they are oversaturated with ideas; they are so full to the brim that each individual idea is merely a drop of water in a vast ocean of political commentary. Compare the impact of foux activism with the impact of canvassing, phone banking, or any other forms of real tangible political action. While social media dilutes students’ political, the very same ideas come to fruition only with more traditional methods of political activism.

Another disadvantage to only online political commentary is that it is much easier to comfortably disagree on the internet than it is to do so in real life. When a real person knocks on the door of another real person, an emotional connection is established. That kind of person-to-person interaction is important for all civically engaged Americans to experience. It is a form of public discourse that reinforces and strengthens the fundamental tenets of our democratic society.

Even in student political organizations in schools as overwhelmingly liberal and anti-trump as Bard, students favor online commentary to political activism. Take the BHSEC Young Democrats club. Despite the widespread hatred of Donald Trump among BHSEC students, fewer than 10 students appear at meetings regularly to work towards political change. So why do students overwhelmingly prefer to speak up online as opposed to phone banking or canvassing? Posting on social media, quite simply, is easier than knocking on doors.

It is important, as civically engaged citizens, to participate fully in American politics. Granted, most high school students during this election cannot vote. But by taking action outside the impersonal world of the internet, we can gain a real political voice.

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